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Decriminalizing Sex: Where Prostitution Meets Purity Culture

Decriminalizing Sex: Where Prostitution Meets Purity Culture

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Featured Guest Bio | Melissa Broudo

Melissa Sontag Broudo, JD, MPH, is the co-founder and co-director of the Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights (SOAR) Institute. She has been part of the sex-worker-rights and harm-reduction movements since the late 1990s, co-founding SOAR to further policy, advocacy, and capacity building efforts that support the rights of sex workers and survivors of human trafficking.

See Melissa’s full profile

Summary – Decriminalizing Sex: Where Prostitution Meets Purity Culture

An odd twist in my research on a libertarian theory of reproductive rights (and abortion), I’ve had to dive into how the criminal justice system treats the crime of rape. In doing so, I’ve been led to what might appear to be very strange. The parallels between the culture surrounding illicit sex work and evangelical purity culture. I cannot say where any causal relations lay between the two, only that they appear to be, strikingly, correlated. And correlated in such a way that Christians in particular must pay attention and take heed.

In this episode, I seek to break down the legal concerns regarding sex work and prostitution, and the connections to human trafficking. The connection to human trafficking is difficult given the prevalence and nature of trauma. I wrote a review of Dr. Gabor Mate’s work on trauma in a documentary called, The Wisdom of Trauma.

One aspect he addresses are the reasons why women will prostitute themselves and it seems to stem exclusively from trauma. But, when it comes to dealing with traumatized people, there is a principled disagreement about how to deal with sex workers with trauma: use the legal violence of the state to rescue women, penalize women, or only in response to violence done against them.

But there might be another way to deal with trauma, trafficking, and voluntarily choosing to prostitute oneself. And that lays in education concerning sex and intimate relationships. I’ve found a strong correlation between the views of men and women by “Johns” and “primps” and the view of men and women in evangelical purity culture. Have evangelicals unwittingly set the stage for sex trafficking and prostitution? I think there’s good reason to believe that American evangelicalism contributed to the problems some evangelicals are trying to now fix, regarding sexual violence.

The popular view by Christian anti-human  trafficking organizations is to embrace the Nordic model – make the men behave! Use the threat of legal violence to make bad men behave better. But does this work? I also explain why the nature of economics will not allow for legal violence to “deter” bad behavior. And why this necessitates decriminalizing sex work if we’re going to improve societal and legal views concerning women and sex.

DISCLAIMER: While this episode is aimed at supporting decriminalizing sex work, it is not an endorsement of sex work as morally legitimate. I hold and maintain a Christian sexual ethic (sex is designed by God only for heterosexual marriage relationships), though I believe evangelical “purity culture” is an unbiblical, anti-Christian view. 

Main Points of Discussion

00:00 Introduction
Ep. 292: Decriminalizing Prostitution: Can Christians Support it?
01:45 Definitions: ‘sex work’, ‘prohibition’, ‘prostitution’, trafficking’
04:04 Why is it important to understand these distinctions
05:46 Difference between ‘decriminalization‘ and ‘legalization’
07:58 Explanation of legalization; Nevada vs Rhode Island
09:08 The feminist argument against decriminalization (Nordic model)
09:55 Clip from Julie Bindell’s opening statement at the Soho Forum
13:43 “The bleakest view of masculinity”
14:50 Do we know how many sex workers are trafficking vs voluntarily participating?
16:24 Clip from “Sold in America” – a “John’s” view of women in purchasing sex
17:41 Evangelical Purity Culture Detour
18:09 Does ‘rape culture’ exist?
 19:28 Nancy Pearcy: how “nominal” evangelical men skew divorce and domestic violence data in the church
23:01 What does evangelical purity culture have to do with decriminalizing prostitution?
27:08 What the so-called “experts” told evangelical women about how to have a good Christian marriage
27:33 Quotes cited by Shelia Wray Gregorie’s, The Great Sex Rescue
31:55 Ontological distinctions between men and women don’t require a predator/prey relationship
33:39 Connecting the stigma of sex in purity culture to the stigma found in legal prohibition of prostitution
34:21 Legal denial of basic human rights – No Humans Involved
36:22 The unjust handling of sexual violence by our criminal justice system
40% of police officers perpetrate domestic violence in their own homes.
37:41 Are victims of rape stigmatized because of prostitution, or is prostitution stigmatized because of certain views about women, already discussed? (Connection to spiritual manipulation of religious values)
41:57 The perpetual victim status of women – propagated by feminists and patriarchalists
43:17 How do we change society to value women and children, abhor the evils done against them, and still maintain a system of justice?
43:59 Misunderstanding economic demand is resulting with failure and unintended consequences
46:39 In countries that have the Nordic model, no decrease in demand but an increase in antisocial behavior
50:18 Compare to New Zealand – decriminalized sex work in 2007
51:05 Why Christians should care about decriminalizing sex work – even while we don’t endorse it.
52:12 Let our yes mean yes, and our no mean no – justice requires it.
52:58 Concluding thoughts – what decriminalizing prostitution means for Christian teaching about a biblical sexual ethic.

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Kerry Baldwin
B.A. Philosophy, Arizona State University. My writing focuses on libertarian philosophy and reformed theology and aimed at the educated layperson. I am a confessionally Reformed Christian orthodox Presbyterian in the tradition of J. Gresham Machen (1881 – 1937)

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